The non-profit journey - Aaron Tait

Eight years ago Kaitlin and I started Spark International, from our little house in Boko, Tanzania. We had no money, no connections and no real idea of how to run a non-profit. But with passion, conviction and lots of hard work we stopped talking about the change we wanted to see in the world, and launched an organisation to try and do something.

When we moved back to Australia, we met loads of amazing young people who had also decided to try to make a difference in the world (including Elliot Costello from YGAP who we later merged with). The brilliant people we met were giving their all for a better environment, better schools, less poverty, less war, more support for those with disabilities, the reduction of stigma around mental health, and challenging race and gender stereotypes. As we grew our small organisations, we would catch up for drinks, sign leases on cheap co-working spaces and share ideas, wins and failures. Most of us were unpaid. All of us were trying our best.

Over the years, many of the organisations grew. Board meetings looked less like friends and family cheering us on and more like high-powered gatherings of accountants, lawyers and business leaders. Budgets we had to try change the world with became larger than we could have ever imagined and our workplace shifted from the local coffee shop to offices with leases, asset lists and risk management plans. Collectively we made a big difference. We changed things.

But in 2016 I noticed something interesting. We weren’t so young anymore. Most of these young founders were in their thirties. Many were married. Some had kids. And when we would meet up for drinks, most of us seemed really tired. By the end of last year 80 per cent of the young founders we had journeyed with for years had moved on from the non-profits that they started.

Some moved countries. Some moved into well paid corporate jobs. Some launched impact businesses and raised seed capital from the growing impact investment community. Some joined exciting new ventures that they hadn’t founded themselves.

At YGAP, the key leaders who made the decision to step up and build things are still at the helm. But as we learn from the experiences of our friends, we are getting smarter to make sure that we keep talent in the organisation. Here is what we are doing.

  1. Setting big goals. There is nothing like a challenging and bold goal to fire up a team. We want to change a million lives in the next two years. We want to continue the exponential growth of our fundraising campaigns. And we know this is just the beginning. Our plans post-2018 are starting to take shape and they are awesome.
  2. Taking breaks. Some of our most senior leaders are packing their bags and heading away for a few months to learn, be inspired by other organisations and recharge their batteries.
  3. Changing positions. Some of our leaders are shifting roles in the organisation to allow them to focus where their talents sit best, and also to allow for fresh talent and ideas to influence where we are headed.

What I have realised moving into 2017 is that social change is a marathon, not a sprint. All of us in this work (whether we are founders, volunteers or donors) should live deliberately and commit ourselves to a lifetime of impact.